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Sensors are now tracking office productivity

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Not only are businesses turning to big data to improve the customer experience, they're using it to improve office productivity.

The Wall Street Journal reports that companies are equipping employees with sensors (from an ID badge, smartphone, or office furniture) to get a better sense of how employees work -- how they move through the office, and how they interact with coworkers.

Here's what one company, Cubist Pharmaceuticals Inc., did with data from a sensor study that tracked how employees moved through the office, along with their voice levels and conversational patterns.

Cubist discovered a correlation between higher productivity and face-to-face interactions. It found that social activity dropped off significantly during lunch time, as many employees retreated to their desks to check emails, rather than chatting with one another.

In response, the company decided to make its once-dingy cafeteria more inviting, improving the lighting and offering better food, to encourage workers to lunch together, instead of at their desks.

They also implemented a 3 p.m. break to get workers through the afternoon doldrums.

A similar study by Bank of America found that taking measures to get employees mingling boosted productivity by 10 percent.

The challenge with sensor studies, however, is gleaning insights from the data to make smart business decisions. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, for example, used big data to decide to ban telecommuting. The decision got a lot of push back from telecommuting proponents, using data of course.

The real message here: big data is insightful, but its meaning isn't always clear.

Tracking Sensors Invade the Workplace [Wall Street Journal]

Photo: Flickr/pauladamsmith

— By on March 11, 2013, 5:38 AM PST

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure